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Written by: Sjaak Mintjens
Date: 2013/07/16

A welcoming city

If you are a user of Japan-Guide then you are probably already familiar with Takayama, as iis shown on their map of Japan together with cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nagasaki etc. This city surprised me in more than one way, maybe even more than previously mentioned cities in a few ways. As I am currently living in Matsumoto, I took a daytrip to Takayama to know only all too soon that my time allotted for Takayama was way too short. Here is why.

 

 

 

A refreshing welcome

Mid-July in Japan already starts to really heat up, so wherever you go by bus or by train with nice air-conditioning and get off, you will quickly feel the hot sun tingling on your skin, but Takayama was not a warm welcome, but a refreshing welcome. Not pointing at all at hospitality, as that is superb. Takayama is a hot city, just like almost every city in Japan, but to compensate the heat you will notice a few really great feats. One is the bus stop, if you plan to go to any great destination like Kamikochi or the Hida Folk Village, you will have to wait at a busstop where they continuously spray water on the road with little fountains. Which is just great for when you are waiting on a bus and the waiting room is full. My bus this day took me to the Hida Folk Village which is the second refreshing location. You can read more about the folk village here: Hida Folk Village article. Then there are also a few very nice locations to just take a little rest.

 

Takayama specialty

When I got back from the Hida Folk Village I went to get myself some lunch and I had already set my eyes on a certain dish: Takayama ramen. With the Japanese website TabeLog, a restaurant rating website, by my side I ventured out in the city and went to one of the higher ranked ramen joints and found myself at a place called Menya Shirakawa (麺屋しらかわ). The place had on the outside and inside a different feel about it then I was used to from most ramen joints I have been to. It played some western jazz music and also just how the place was arranged, it was just a bit different, but not in a bad way at all. The menu was very limited, I am used to being able to choose between two or three kinds of ramen, five different types of toppings etc, but they only had one ramen in two sizes and you could get a soft boiled egg to go with it. Some people would say this is too limited for any restaurant or ramen joint. But when getting served, you would soon find out that they really don’t have to provide any other, because what they do have is just simply that good. I went for a normal sized portion with a soft-boiled egg, something that I almost always add to my ramen and if you haven’t tried it yet then you definitely should. This meal was in these hot summer times more than enough for me. But I had to try something called “mitarashi dango”, glutinous rice balls on a stick usually covered with some sweet sauce, which is something I have feared ever since the first time I put one of those intensely sweet glutinous rice balls in my mouth, but I was determined to try it again. But, somewhat unfortunately, I found out thanks to the ramen joint that the Takayama mitarashi dango is not sweet but actually more soya based and definitely not sweet. So I went out to buy it anyway because it is a famous product and it definitely was no real mitarashi dango for me, which was maybe for the better, but it was pretty darn good! Other than that there is the well known Hida beef. However, due to the hot weather, my meal and the little snack I was unable to eat any more, nor was there much money left in my wallet, and I made a hard decision to not eat a great cuisine the first time in my life. However, I will be sure to go back and get me one of the tenderest beefs Japan has to offer!

 

More than meets the eye

Sannomachi(san-no-machi) is an old Japanese street in Takayama with a lot of little food stalls (mitarashi dango, hida beef, soft-served ice cream etc) and of course a lot of souvenir shops. But besides these obvious things they also have a few more traditional places, like a miso paste (red bean paste) storage house/workshops several Japanese sake(rice wine) workshops where you can taste some of the better Japanese sake. Sannomachi stretches out for quite a bit to both sides of the station (on the other side of the river) and surely offers quite a lot of interesting sights and a great walk to spend your afternoon.

 

 

In all the corners of Takayama

Takayama holds a lot of temples and old buildings even some coming from the Nara period (710-794), which have been rebuilt over the years as wooden buildings sadly do have their expiration date, but it does not take away their beauty. Other than old buildings you can find humongous storage houses of several meters high, but only a few meters in width. These are used to store the festival rides in during the year. These storages are placed all over town and it can be pretty fun to find these. Some of these big rides can also be viewed in the Festival Museum which is located a little bit outside of town. One more thing I would advise you to witness, this does require you to stay the night, is the morning market. I was unable to witness this sadly, but along the river side, and also in one more place, there are every morning market stalls selling fresh local goods and some souvenirs. Along with the Hida beef, is the morning market a reason for me to definitely go back to Takayama.

 

Takayama to Kamikochi

The whole scenery in Takayama is beautiful, the river, Sannomachi, the little roads leading to new places to discover. Takayama is definitely a very nice place to stay before going to Kamikochi the next. Getting to Kamikochi from Takayama is also very easy as described in this article: Access to Kamikochi from Takayama (opens in new window). And passing through Kamikochi you can make a stop at Matsumoto and see the castle as well as several other sights, as described also on this website. Afterwards you can continue your journey again to one of the many connections that Matsumoto can offer you.

 

Official Takayama website: http://www.hida.jp/english/